This is the first book in Verdenius' Big Girls Lovin' trilogy, which stars plus-sized heroines. It's self-published, and 64,188 words long. I think that came out to 149 pages on my Nook (my Nook has taken a dislike to this file, so I'm afraid to open it up and check).
Cherry is a shy, 35-year-old, plus-sized virgin who has given up on finding someone who will love her, no matter what she looks like. Now, all she wants is to have sex at least once, and one of her friends has the answer: why not call a male escort? (Apparently, prostitution is legal in Australia, which is where this book is set.)
Cherry is mortified at the thought, at first, but eventually she caves, calls an escort service, and arranges for a two-hour meeting at a hotel with a man named Damien. When a hot guy comes to her hotel room, she assumes it's Damien, and the two of them rapidly get down to business. Cherry keeps the lights low, both because she's uncomfortable with a man seeing all her physical faults and because she wants to lessen the chance that Damien might one day recognize her at her job as a nurse.
What Cherry doesn't realize is that the man she has sex with is not, in fact, Damien, but rather Rick Reed, a new doctor at her hospital. He got a little drunk after a party and assumed that Cherry was the "surprise" his friend Tim said he'd left him. He didn't realize until the next day, after he'd sobered up a bit, that Cherry was a virgin.
When they meet again, it takes Rick a bit to recognize Cherry, but when he does, he starts pursuing her, determined that their one night together won't be their last. Cherry, for her part, doesn't think a hunk like Rick could possibly be interested in her. Somehow Rick has to convince her that she's really the woman he wants.
The cover image for this book was what first brought it to my attention - it looked cute, and the female cover model was clothed, so I guessed the book was probably not written primarily for a male audience (ARe can be a minefield at times). I liked the excerpt, and a few of the reviews I read on Goodreads sounded encouraging. I looked forward to a story that would indulge my love for shy heroines, as well as my love for heroines with body image issues who meet heroes who like them just as they are.
I'm an American, so one of my first stumbling blocks with this book was its Australianisms and what I'm guessing was characters' more Australian rhythm of speech. I don't think the Australianisms were particularly difficult to figure out, but they weren't words I was used to. The rhythm of characters' speech was a slightly larger stumbling block for me – some phrases just seemed awkward to me.
Another stumbling block I faced, as an American, was that Cherry's friends' advice to call a male escort service for sex wouldn't fly in the U.S. Prior to buying the book, I read the excerpt and assumed that Cherry was maybe misunderstanding the escort agency's services, although the woman on the phone seemed either remarkably willing to encourage that misunderstanding or surprisingly oblivious to what Cherry was arranging an escort for. As I read the book and realized there was no misunderstanding, I had to do a quick check on the legality of prostitution in Australia. Again, like the Australianisms and rhythm of speech, it was something that gave me pause.
Okay, moving on to the characters now. I really liked Cherry, even though her life featured a few more stereotypes than I would have preferred (her two spoiled cats wouldn't have bothered me if Cherry hadn't also been a reader of steamy romances – it reminded me of media comments along the lines of “romance novels are porn for women”). I found her nervousness when she called up the escort agency to be charming, I felt sympathy for her over her crippling body image issues, and I cheered when she was finally able, at the end of the book, to stand up for herself and for her relationship with Rick.
Tim, Rick's veterinarian friend, was another character I liked, particularly when he was with Nancy, his date to his mother's party. Those two were a hoot together. Tim had me wishing I had read Vet's Desire, his book, first, even though that would have meant starting with the third book in a trilogy.
That leads me into what I felt was one of the biggest weaknesses of this book: Rick. I really disliked him. There's a bit in the text where it says “Rick was no conceited jerk” and my first thought was “I beg to differ.” When he decided he wanted to have Cherry in his bed again, he was shocked when she didn't immediately jump for joy at the opportunity, like most every other woman in his life would have done. Because, you know, he's a well-built, hottie doctor. Unfortunately, he was a stalkerish well-built, hottie doctor who came on way, way too strong, and his hyper-masculinity grated on my nerves. It seemed like he did just about everything “manfully.”
I didn't dislike Rick right from the start. His and Cherry's first meeting got a pass from me, because Cherry was too nervous to think to ask for details (although her friends were right, she really should have at least confirmed his name) and Rick was too drunk to think clearly. I was encouraged by Rick's later horror when he realized that Cherry had been a virgin – “maybe there's going to be a scene in which Rick apologizes for having been too drunk to realize Cherry was a virgin,” I thought. He sort of did apologize, I guess, but he was mostly upset because he slept with a woman he didn't know, who then ran off. He lost loads of points with me when he started calling Cherry repeatedly and showing up at her house uninvited. Tim even told him his behavior was like that of a stalker, and he still didn't stop.
Rick basically bulldozed his way into Cherry's life. I wanted him to step back a bit, get to know Cherry, and start courting her, without assuming that she needed to immediately fall into bed with him. Even after they began dating, he kept coming on way stronger than I would have liked. Nearly every time he spoke to Cherry, whether they were in public or, heck, in the kitchen with Rick's sister and his friend Tim, Rick managed to bring sex up. I wanted at least a few scenes where affection, not sex, was front and center. I know Cherry had hangups about her weight and about guys in her past seeing her as a friend rather than as a potential lover, but did every scene with Rick have to be about sex? The best I got was a scene where Cherry and Rick talked about Cherry's cats – they have similar views about people who dump their pets.
Most of the dating Cherry and Rick did was "tell," not "show." I know, because either Rick or Cherry mentioned it, that they went on a picnic together, that they went out to the movies, and that they sat around and had tea. The only date they go on that is actually shown in the story, however, is when they go out for pizza, which leads me into another problem I had with the book: how weight-related issues were handled.
First, a bit of background. I consider my weight to be average – I'm not as skinny as some women, but I'm definitely nowhere near plus-sized. However, my mother is plus-sized. I know, from talking with my mom, how cruel some people can be, although some of what Cherry went through seemed a bit excessive. The one thing that never comes up in the book, though? Weight-related health issues. I don't think this would have been as much of a problem if it hadn't been for the pizza-eating scene. Cherry wanted to eat more pizza but held herself back because she didn't want to look like a pig. Rick encouraged her to eat as much as she wanted and said he didn't care if she ate the whole pizza. All I could think of was, “Is this really what a doctor would say?”
It's not that I wanted diabetes and heart problems to come up, and I can understand the allure of a guy who won't think you're a pig if you have another slice of pizza. However, I think this scene would have been less problematic for me if Rick hadn't been a doctor, if Rick hadn't even commented on how much Cherry was or wasn't eating, or if their date hadn't primarily involved food. Again, some background info: my mom developed diabetes, and her weight was likely a contributing factor in that. Every time she sees a doctor, she's told she needs to lose some weight. I can't help but think of weight in terms of health issues, especially in a book starring a hero who's a doctor.
The main thing I liked about this book was Cherry. Rick had potential but turned out to be a conceited jerk. Rick and Cherry's relationship came across as being more about sex than anything else, and I didn't particularly like the sex scenes or Rick's many crude references to sex. I don't know if I'll ever take another chance on this author, but, if I do, I might try Vet's Desire, Tim's book, since I already know I like Tim – I just hope he's as likable as a main character as he was as a minor character. Overall, I'd give this book a C-. (Yes, I'm regularly grading the stuff I review now. My next step may be to add tags for grades.)
I'll mention this, because I know from comments on some blogs I read that readers' ideas of what counts as “plus-sized” seems to vary widely: Cherry's exact weight is never mentioned. Cherry thinks of herself as fat and lumpy, while Rick thinks of her as “curvy,” “luscious,” and “rubenesque.” With no further details to work with, I imagined Cherry looking something like the woman on the cover, but readers who are better at divorcing characters from their cover image pictures can think of her as being whatever weight they prefer.
Now, a comment about editing: Someone really needed to read this book over another couple times – there were quite a few homophone-style typos that a spellchecker wouldn't have caught. Things like “guilt” instead of “gilt,” “poured” instead of “pored,” “allowed” instead of “aloud,” etc. It didn't interfere with the book's readability, but I found it a little annoying.
Read-alikes and Watch-alikes:
- Night Play (book) by Sherrilyn Kenyon - This is not the first book in the series, but I think it might be the first book starring a Were-Hunter (basically, a werewolf), so newbies to the series might not be too lost. Bride, the book's heroine, is a plus-sized boutique owner. Vane met her in a previous book (sorry, can't remember which one, but it was a very brief scene) and was instantly intrigued by her. In this book, they have hot sex that was never supposed to turn into anything more, because Vane doesn't want to put Bride in danger. However, Vane realizes Bride is his mate. Bride has some body image issues, but they are nowhere near the level of Cherry's.
- Kimi ni Todoke (manga) by Karuho Shiina - If you don't mind switching to a high school story in a completely different format and would like something else featuring a shy heroine, you might want to try this. Sawako is a sweet person who has no friends, because everyone thinks she looks creepy. Then she meets Kazehaya. He's a nice, good-looking guy who becomes the first person to see underneath Sawako's creepy-looking exterior. Kazehaya is interested in Sawako, but Sawako has spent so long in the background that the idea someone might like her is completely foreign. I've written about volumes 1 through 3 and think this series is absolutely adorable.
- The MacGregor Grooms (anthology) by Nora Roberts - I'm calling this an anthology because it features three separate, but linked, short romance stories. I'm suggesting it primarily for the final story (although the other two stories are also good!), which features Ian MacGregor, a handsome lawyer, and Naomi Brightstone, a shy bookstore owner. Even though Naomi has lost weight, she still hasn't gotten over the awkwardness and hurt she felt while she was overweight. So, while this story doesn't feature a currently plus-sized woman, it may still appeal to those who like romances featuring plus-sized heroines. Also, like Cherry, Naomi is still a virgin when she meets Ian.